Assoc. of Australian Acoustical Consultants, Position Statement on Wind Farms

The Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants have issued a Position Statement on Wind Farms.

Below are some comments made by the Waubra Foundation in relation to that position statement.

The AAAC is the professional association of consultant acoustic engineers in Australia, formed to advance their interests. It is a separate organisation to the AAS, the Australian Acoustical Society, which is the academic body. Whilst the AAAC do have their own code of conduct, it is the AAS whose first provision in their code of ethics relates to the obligation of acoustical engineers – specifically that

“The welfare, health and safety of the community shall at all times take precedence over sectional, professional and private interests.” 

The Chairman of the AAAC, Mr Martti Walpenius has made comments in the media which extended the Position Statement beyond its contents, and which were scientifically inaccurate, as Professor Alec Salt has explicitly pointed out in his letter to the AAAC chair (see link below). Neither the official AAAC Position Statement nor the comments by the chairman of the AAAC Mr Warpenius, have been withdrawn or amended.

The Position Statement has no stated authors, and the AAAC chair has refused to tell members of the community who drafted the statement, so that any conflicts of interest are exposed. The current members of the AAAC executive are Mr Martti Walpenius (Chair), Mr Shane Elkin (Vice Chair), Mr Tim Trewin (Secretary) and Mr Stephen Gauld (Treasurer).

We note that the AAAC Code of Professional Conduct states explicitly that members should “Disclose any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest prior to undertaking an assignment.

It would appear the AAAC chair, executive, and whomever wrote the Position Statement have breached their own code of conduct, both by refusing to document it on the Position Statement itself, and refusing to disclose that information to members of the community with an interest in this issue.

The Waubra Foundation have been advised that the Statement is not universally supported by all members of the AAAC, however that has not been made clear either by the Statement or by the AAAC executive. This too is misleading behaviour by the executive, as the current impression is that the Position Statement has been universally approved by all members, which is not in fact the case.

It would appear that those who contributed to the Statement and those who approved it, may have major undeclared conflicts of interest in this matter, as consultants working with wind developers, with a significant proportion of their incomes coming from this work.

One consultant from Sonus who is a member of the AAAC mentioned the existence of the Position Statement during a presentation at the recent International Wind Turbine Noise conference in Denver. Sonus are a major acoustic consultant to wind developers in Australia, with a clear financial conflict of interest in this matter. If this acoustic consultant was involved in any way in the drafting of this Statement, his involvement should have been disclosed by the AAAC to the public. The failure to disclose any information about the authors and their potential conflicts of interest, after specific requests to do so from the community, is revealing.

The Position Statement makes the following comments:

“Investigations have found that infrasound levels around wind farms are no higher than levels measured at other locations
where people live, work and sleep. Those investigations conclude that infrasound levels adjacent to wind farms are below the threshold of perception and below currently accepted limits set for infrasound”. 

This statement ignores the work of Neil Kelley et al who established in US Department of Energy funded acoustic field research work published in 1985 that the perception of infrasound from wind turbines which was causing annoyance (acknowledged as an adverse health effect) was BELOW the AUDIBLE perception threshold, but was still being perceived and causing annoyance. Kelley’s work was accepted at the time and was largely responsible for the design of wind turbines changing from downwind bladed turbines to upwind bladed turbines, to reduce the amount of infrasound and low frequency noise generated. However as upwind bladed turbines have increased in size, so too has the proportion of infrasound and low frequency noise.

The Kelley research has unfortunately been ignored ever since by acousticians working with wind developers, and by noise pollution regulatory authorities (who include members of the AAS and the AAAC) who are meant to have established evidence based health protective noise pollution regulations, and enforce them properly.

The Kelley research was well known to the wind industry, as was the laboratory research which followed the field work in 1987. The laboratory research was presented at the Windpower 87 conference in California, under the auspices of the American Wind Energy Association, and the US Department of Energy.

The safe operating parameters established by Kelley et al for the control of infrasound and low frequency noise emissions from wind turbines to prevent harm to human health including sleep disturbance were deliberately excluded from ETSU 97, the UK noise pollution guidelines upon which subsequent wind turbine noise pollution regulations in Australia have been based. Those guidelines have been written or contributed to by members of the AAS and AAAC.

The AAAC Position Statement does not mention the work of or professional opinions about wind turbine noise by acoustic consultants in Australia and internationally who are generally independent of the wind industry such as Dr Paul Schomer, Rick James, Robert Rand, Stephen Ambrose, Dr Malcolm Swinbanks, Professor Philip Dickinson, Emeritus Professor Colin Hansen, Professor Con Doolan, Steven Cooper, and Dr Bob Thorne.

The work of these consultant acousticians is revealing that infrasound and low frequency noise is indeed directly causing symptoms reported by residents; that the current guidelines are inadequate to protect health, and that the levels of infrasound being measured are in fact higher than previously reported if more accurate detailed measuring techniques are used rather than methods which average out the sound energy peaks, and that serious health problems are emerging with chronic exposure to wind turbine noise.

For example, the AAAC position statement does not refer to the recent work of Dr Paul Schomer, US Director of Acoustic Standards, which has identified that wind turbine generated infrasound is directly and causally related to the symptoms of nausea and vertigo in a sub group of residents living near wind developments. This work was known to members of the AAAC who attended the recent international wind turbine noise conference in Denver.

The AAAC Position Statement does not refer to the concerning case series by psychoacoustician Dr Bob Thorne, which identified direct health impacts from exposure to operating wind turbines from Victorian wind developments, and included severe cumulative sleep disturbance and mental health indicators. Dr Thorne’s findings of reduced sleep quality and mental health problems and significantly diminshed quality of life are consistent with those of peer reviewed published research by Dr Daniel Shepherd et al and Dr Michael Nissenbaum et al.

The final paragraph of the position statement is therefore of concern. It states:

“AAAC members should continue to primarily rely on the view of government bodies in relation to the health effects of wind farms and should conduct assessments in accordance with the relevant guidelines in each state.”

The members of the AAAC, if they are also members of the AAS, have an obligation to consider the welfare, health & safety of the community. If these joint members of the AAAC and the AAS ignore the emerging evidence of adverse health effects being noted by their professional colleagues, such as Dr Schomer and Dr Thorne, and which they know are being reported by the residents at the wind developments where they have performed acoustic consulting work as well as their treating doctors, these acousticians have a professional obligation to ensure that these adverse health effects are not denied or ignored by their paying clients, the wind developers.

It would appear AAAC members, particularly if they are also members of the AAS, also have a professional obligation to do much more than “follow the guidelines”. They have an obligation to make their professional concerns known to the government health and noise pollution regulatory authorities. Continuing to conduct assessments in accordance with the relevant guidelines, without making their concerns known to their clients and the government health and noise pollution authorities, is behaviour which is clearly not protecting the welfare, health and safety of the community.

Silence or active collusion on the part of the AAAC membership involved in producing and approving this document, in effectively denying the existing sleep and health problems by omitting crucial research findings from this AAAC position statement, is resulting in the ongoing denial of a serious public health problem.

These serious health problems are preventable with evidence based regulations covering the full sound spectrum which are appropriately enforced in a timely fashion. The problems are instead being enabled by the behaviour of certain members of the AAAC, and by the AAAC itself with the issuing of this document.

AAAC members would do well to reflect on the words of American Psychiatrist Dr William Hallstein when he referred to the current situation of wind turbine noise pollution related health and sleep problems at Falmouth as “abuse”. The same could be said for what is occurring at many wind developments in Australia.

Concluding remarks

One is left with the unmistakeable impression that by these major omissions from this position statement, the AAAC are a professional group protecting their own interests, at the direct expense of welfare, health and safety of the community. If members of the AAAC are also members of the AAS, it would appear these members may therefore now be in breach of the first provision of the AAS code of ethics, namely:

“The welfare, health and safety of the community shall at all times take precedence over sectional, professional and private interests.” 

Download the Statement in full →

Read Professor Alec Salt’s letter to the Chair of the AAAC →

Read Stephen E. Ambrose’s reaction to the Statement →

Download a letter from Waubra Foundation chair Mr Peter Mitchell to the AAAC →

Download the AAAC’s Response →

Download a further letter from the Waubra Foundation to the AAAC